Shiitake mushroom, also known as Chinese Black Mushroom and Black Forest Mushroom, is native to east Asia, particularly China, Japan and Korea. Though its modern globally known name is taken from Japan, contrary to popular belief, this mushroom is not native only to Japan. All three countries have grown Shiitake since millennia ago both for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Typically thick and meaty, Shiitake mushroom are a dark brownish hue and have a deep, almost nutty flavor. Sold both in its fresh form as well as dehydrated, it has become widely available across the world thanks to exportation from Asia. Long regarded by Asian chefs as a delicacy, Shiitake is commonly used in soups and stir-fries.
In its medicinal and cosmetic usage in historic Asia, physicians have strongly lauded its anti-aging properties, using Shiitake in health tonics given to pregnant women, the elderly and for general health. Modern day Japan implements AHCC (active Hexose correlated compound) isolated from Shiitake as a highly popular alternative medicine for cancer patients. Other nations use Lentinan, another compound isolated in Shiitake, as part of an intravenous agent to fight cancer due to its supposedly powerful anti-tumor properties, suggesting higher survival rate and lower recurrence.
Other health benefits of Shiitake include lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure, boosting overall immune system and the prevention of virus multiplication. For maximum benefit, it is suggested that both the body and stem should be consumed. It’s also vital to cook Shiitake thoroughly to avoid the allergic (but non-threatening) reaction some people get from consuming undercooked Shiitake.